Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie: Expertise and advice will drive plans forward
Environmental law is a fast-paced and evolving area of legal expertise – Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie having both the knowledge and experience in the renewable energy industry to help businesses and developers with their bottom line goals. zero. By Anthony Harrington
As with any large project, navigating the process of securing funding, obtaining consent, and building an onshore wind farm, is filled with legal minefields and elephant traps abound for the unwary.
These projects have many moving parts and each new wind farm development poses its own challenges. It will also have its own set of local communities which must be consulted and involved if the project is to be successful.
The key point to emphasize, however, says Andy McFarlane, head of renewable energy at law firm Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie, is that every project that goes through the consent process has a vital contribution to make.
By contributing in a sustainable way to Scotland’s energy needs, these projects are helping to bring the whole country closer to the Scottish Government’s ambitious Net Zero goal.
McFarlane’s involvement in renewable energy with WJM dates back at least 20 years. “As a law firm, we are not ourselves the inspiring entrepreneurs of the energy transition. But we have been working for a long time now in partnership with a very inspiring industry, helping to bring renewable energy projects to fruition, ”he comments.
WJM has been involved in the sector since the 1990s, both with the first onshore wind projects and with small and large scale hydropower projects and more recently in the ramp-up of battery storage projects.
In some ways, renewable energy projects are similar to other “construction” projects that require a building permit. However, they also have a number of unique characteristics that don’t have real parallels in other industries.
Developers in other sectors will largely focus on maximizing the return from their development on the land in front of them.
They can, for example, be expected to have a social advantage in the project to be successful in the planning process. They should involve the local community, perhaps promising to use local labor and / or to include local amenities such as a community center or shopping malls in the project.
In contrast, the renewable energy sector has always provided “added value” in the form of community and environmental benefits beyond the footprint of the project itself. One of the central considerations for an onshore wind project will be to determine with the local community how they and the owner of the land on which the wind farm is to be located will benefit financially from the project.
“The wind farm project team starts meeting with the local community early in the project, long before planning approval takes place,” comments McFarlane.
Liaison with the community will likely occur throughout the development and construction phase of the project. The goal in the early stages will be to facilitate the efforts of the local community to define exactly what benefits they expect from the project for them.
For example, is there the possibility that the community will take some financial participation in the project and derive a long-term financial return?
McFarlane points out that the old models, which prevailed a decade ago, where local councils would have a say in how the contribution to community benefits would be spent, are changing.
They are giving way too many community-centric models with developers working with local community organizations to determine how the funds will be spent for the benefit of the community.
Obviously, one of the benefits of getting strong buy-in from local communities early on in a new project is that it can help chart a smoother path through the consent process.
All other things being equal, planners tend to favor projects that have strong support from the local community. McFarlane notes that much has changed since the early days of onshore wind development, when politicians and others sought support by vehemently opposing any new wind farm development.
He points out that the old argument of the “scourge of the landscape”, which was once used against onshore wind projects, is rightly fading into history.
“People are now much more aware of the dangers of excessive climate change and therefore of the need to support the Scottish Government’s Net Zero policy and to maximize the rich renewable resources available to Scotland,” he comments.
This helps to bring about a radical change in the way planners approach the consent process. In addition, project developers now have a better understanding of what is required from the visual and environmental impact studies they must produce to support their projects.
“What you are seeing today is that wind farms are located much more carefully so as not to impact sensitive sites or areas of outstanding natural beauty. The onshore wind industry received a lot of bad press early on, but the majority of the public now knows that these projects are really helping us move away from fossil fuels to heat and power our homes, ”he comments.
The point is that onshore wind farms are now an integral part of the UK and Scottish energy mix. The journey to Net Zero relies on the ability to continuously learn and develop industry best practices to get the results we need and the renewable energy industry is at the forefront of this dynamic.
“Renewable energy projects contribute in a very benevolent way and have a very low carbon impact. At first, wind farms tended to be seen as just one more land project, but we constantly see our customers developing increasingly efficient projects and breakthrough technologies to promote green energy as a central part of a business. green economy, ”he emphasizes.
Network connectivity is always a big issue with these projects.
This often poses difficult challenges, especially when a project is located a good distance from both the network and potential end users. When a potential wind farm site is located near large energy users, the developer will want to try to secure a long-term energy contract with one or more of those users.
“What we are trying to do in Scotland is show that you can develop a wind farm that works commercially for the developer and the investors and is nonetheless a win-win for the local community and for the country as a whole” , did he declare. concludes.
OFFSET FOR CARBON WITH NEW WOODLANDS IS GOOD FOR ECONOMIC GROWTH
WHEN someone says, “This is a low carbon solution,” it’s tempting to take it at face value. This is no longer enough when governments around the world work, perhaps a little slowly, to create a market value for carbon units.
As the carbon market opens up, the question around a “low carbon” project is trying to determine how much carbon, exactly, the project is saving by being released into the world or sequestering. , locking carbon in a safe form for decades.
The classic example of a carbon sequestration project is forestry. Trees sequester carbon, and it is possible to scientifically determine how much carbon, per hectare, a Sitka spruce forest or a deciduous forest will sequester.
In 2012, the UK government set up a small team within the Forestry Commission to administer the Woodland Carbon Code, the UK’s voluntary carbon standard for the Forest Creation Projects scheme. It is backed by solid science that predicts and monitors carbon sequestration.
It also provides independent validation and verification of projects. Thus, carbon buyers can be assured that they are investing in a responsible program that truly offsets the amount of carbon the company claims to be offsetting.
Right now, no one worries too much about how much carbon an onshore wind farm saves. The key point is that it produces electricity without burning fossil fuels of any kind.
However, as Andy McFarlane, head of renewable energy at WJM explains, there will always be residual carbon emissions in the creation of any wind turbine project. Carbon emissions are associated with the manufacture of wind turbines, blades and towers and with construction work on site. These can be offset by the project either by the purchase of carbon offset units from companies that own forests and have units for sale, or by the promoter planting a sufficient number of trees if he has sufficient resources. land. The most relevant point however is that many onshore wind developers have already done much of the work envisioned by the carbon offsetting market as obvious on their projects. These latest changes offer an opportunity for renewable energy developers to formalize part of this effort.
“The market for carbon units is slowly emerging, both in Scotland and internationally. It will take time, but this market will become an integral part of the planning of onshore wind farms as things evolve, ”he underlines.
The international strand of efforts to launch carbon markets received a boost at the end of September this year with the formation of a new UN-sponsored governance body tasked with developing voluntary markets. carbon. Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of England, is a key figure in this process.
In the words of the working group involved, “The announcement marks an important step in the mission of the working group to bring greater quality and integrity to trading on VCM. This will reduce CO2 emissions, preserve natural habitats, mobilize the capital needed to develop sustainable technology, and ultimately accelerate the transition to net-zero. ”
This article is brought to you in collaboration with Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie as part of the Herald’s 100 Days of Hope campaign.